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Mayor warns tourists to stay out of the ocean

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and other city officials held a press conference in Waikiki today to warn tourists to heed advisories in regard to Hurricane Lane, which could cause dangerously high surf and flooding later this afternoon and beyond.

While Lane is not projected to directly hit the islands, officials warned that some areas could see up to 30 inches of rain, 20 feet of surf and storm surges of up to 4 feet. Waikiki, where approximately 80 percent of the Oahu’s 126,000 visitors are staying, is a major focus. The state’s top tourist destination is expected to start feeling the impacts about 2 p.m. today.

Heavy rain can cause major sewage spills that pollute the Ala Wai Canal and temporarily shut down Waikiki beaches, as happened in 2006 and 2015. Water surging from three mountain streams that feed into the Ala Wai Canal and debris that makes it harder for the water to flow could lead to flooding.

Waikiki’s shoreline, an essentially man-made beach that is home to some of the state’s most expensive hotels, also is vulnerable to storm surge and high tides. Parts of the beach have very narrow strips of sand serving as buffers between the ocean and tourist infrastructure, including tall hotel towers.

“We are working hard to make sure that the visitors that are here are taken care of,” Caldwell said as he stood on Kuhio Beach. “We want to thank all of our visitors and we want to show them aloha, but we want them to show aloha to Mother Nature and heed the warnings. We are concerned about a lot of rain and increasing storm surge with heavy rain.”

Caldwell said he could be ordering Waikiki’s visitors and residents to seek higher ground, especially if the weather causes 2 to 4 foot storm surges and spins the surf into 25-foot high waves.

To protect against strong winds, visitors should move to hallways, and to avoid flooding, they should move to the second floor or higher of their buildings, Caldwell said.

“Should it become necessary, I will issue a mandatory evacuation to the second floor,” he said.

If the wind were to increase, Caldwell said the city also would advise visitors and residents to get away from windows and “put as many walls between you and the outside.”

Kevin Allen, chief of operations for the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division, is advising people to stay out of the water.

Lifeguard towers are not staffed today because of the potential of high winds knocking them over, he said.

There are currently first responders in Waikiki on jet skies, but that’s only until “conditions warrant us to pull them in,” Allen said.

That could be about 5 p.m, he said. If there’s a 25-foot surf in Waikiki, it could cause massive amounts of white water to roll into the shoreline and a surge that’s high enough to sweep people off their feet and put them back into the water, Allen said.

“If you get in trouble, you are kind of on your own,” he said.

Caldwell said for now the tourist district also will remain without city bus service.

“Winds over 40 miles per hour are dangerous for buses and passengers,” he said, adding that the city will reevaluate conditions tomorrow morning to see if it’s possible to resume bus service.

While Hurricane Lane is expected to be a serious storm, Caldwell advised future visitors not to cancel upcoming trips.

“We don’t want them to cancel their trips prematurely,” he said.

Hurricane Lane is moving very slowing. However, Caldwell said it is expected to be past Hawaii by Monday.

In the meantime, the city is prepared as it can be for what’s proved to be a “most unpredictable” hurricane, he said.

“We plan for the worst and hope for the best, ” he said.

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